As one of the oldest cities in America and home to a young collegiate crowd and growing innovative community, Boston has fun and fascinating attractions and experiences on almost every corner.
From historic sites and erudite museums to stunning views, many of Boston’s attractions capture its essence. To narrow down the long list of possibilities and get the best sense of the city, here’s a look at the top 12 things to do in Boston.
It can be hard to see everything Boston has to offer, so to see as much as possible, participate in one of the city’s famous sightseeing tours. One option is the Boston Duck Tours, an 80-minute ride around the city in a replica World War II-era amphibious landing vehicle. The daily excursion, guided by quirky ConDUCKtours, will take you to a variety of different historic landmarks before taking a 20-minute trip around the Charles River. If you want to have a little more independence on your tour, check out one of Boston’s hop-on, hop-off rides. These trolley tours will lead you around the city and give you the chance to get off or on at a variety of locations. If you get off, you can get back on at any time.
Similar to the Freedom Trail, Boston’s Black Heritage Trail explores the 19th- and 20th-century history of Boston’s black community. The trail, which extends around 1.5mi (2.4km) and mainly travels through the Beacon Hill neighborhood, hits 14 landmarks, such as the African Meeting House, Abiel Smith School, Robert Gould Shaw Memorial and other parts of the Underground Railroad in Boston. Also, check out the Museum of African American History, located near the Massachusetts State House, or take a tour from the National Park Service.
The Boston Common and Public Garden are the heart of the city. Similar to New York’s Central Park (and designed by the same architect), this middlemost garden provides an essential respite from the surrounding commotion. Throughout both parks – separated down the middle by Charles Street – you’ll find picnickers, buskers, performers, pools and ponds, and lots of flowers. In the middle of the Boston Public Garden are the Swan Boats, a staple for tourists and locals alike. A driver, sitting under a swan cover, pedals the pontoon boat, taking you for a short, peaceful ride around the water. The Paget family began the attraction in 1877 and has owned it ever since, making it a part of Boston’s history and a favorite pastime. While you’re riding along, keep an eye out for Romeo and Juliet, two real swans and Boston icons that make their summer home in the lagoon.
Boston has a total of 34 harbor islands located just off the city’s coastline, and many of them are available for public access. During the warmer months (it varies by island), catch a public ferry to the open islands, where you can walk around, camp, check out one of the historic sites or view local wildlife. For those more interested in a guided tour, Boston Harbor Cruises has various water excursions, including whale-watching, lighthouse tours and much more.
Completed in 1742 and known as “The Cradle of Liberty,” Faneuil Hall is a meeting place and local market right in Downtown Boston. The spot, named after a wealthy colonial merchant who donated the funds to build it, was originally used as a public gathering hall that played host to town meetings, famous speeches (including from Frederick Douglass and Samuel Adams) and political events. Today, you can explore the cobblestone walkways, watch street performers or check out either of the three large marketplaces, which in total hold over 70 retailers and local eateries.
Boston has a total of 47mi (75.6km) of scenic coastline, and you can walk 43mi (69.2km) of it along the Boston Harborwalk. The park stretches from lower Dorchester to East Boston, hitting eight different neighborhoods in total. The walkway – kept up by the City of Boston and Boston Harbor Now – offers a peaceful, broad view of the city’s shoreline while also connecting over 40 parks, numerous museums and nine beaches to guests and residents. The most popular section to walk is down Long Wharf near Downtown and the New England Aquarium, where there are coin-operated binoculars and a lot of activity nearby.
Located in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, Copley Square is a bustling yet charming city center with shopping, sightseeing and beautiful architecture. Some must-see sights include the historic Boston Public Library (Central Branch) as well as the Trinity Church (a grand Episcopal church erected between 1872 and 1877). The finish line for the Boston Marathon sits steps away on Boylston Street while Newbury Street, with high-end dining and shopping, is only a block away. While you’re here, take a picture in front of the famous Tortoise and Hare statue, based on the well-known fable and dedicated to the Boston Marathon.